Ivory Billed Woodpecker

Shortly after we had moved to Mississippi for the second time, we had heard that the Ivory Billed Woodpecker (IBWO) was spotted in Arkansas. Thought to be extinct, this was a major find.

The controversy over the finding rests on the fact that no pictures have surfaced.  The bird is similar in shape to the pileated woodpecker but much larger and has different markings.  You can find these differences side-by-side at: www.audubon.org/bird/ivory/differences.php

I had not yet been hooked on birding. I had just started homeschooling and it took a science book, “Exploring Creation with Zoology I: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day”, to get me immersed in this fun hobby.

Since that day in the news, I’ve found and read many books and articles about the IBWO.  I’m currently reading ” The Race to Save the Lord God Bird” by Phillip Hoose.  Others worth reading include: “The Grail Bird: The Rediscovery of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker” by Tim Gallagher, and “Stalking the Ghostbird: The Ellusive Ivory Billed Woodpecker in Louisiana” by Michael K. Steinberg.  One other book I’ve read is “In Search of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker” by Jerome A. Jackson.  All were great reads and held my attention.  If only I could find one. 

A southern bird, it’s been hunted for it’s large head and ivory bill. I understand that there is documentation of Native American Indian Chiefs wearing belts or necklaces of the IBWO’s head and bill. Hunters sold them for good luck charms or to wear as jewelry to the Northerners who had never seen anything like it.  The huge feathers adorned fashionable hats.

The habitat was destroyed which helped in its demise. Frontier towns sprang up on previously thickly forested areas, and rebuilding Chicago after the Great Fire caused a major shortage of lumber east of the Mississippi. Then there was the Civil War; years after the restoration of the south when land was available for purchase, forests were cut down in, what seemed like a day, as people from the North and Midwest desired the lumber for homes and other buildings.

Without the thick forests and swamp lands, the Ivory Billed Woodpecker was prime target for hunters. Even naturalists, like John Audubon, had to kill a few for paintings, science study and museum displays around the country.  No wonder the bird was thought extinct.

There are several sites on the internet where you can learn more about the IBWO and report a sighting.  My favorites include www.ibwo.org, http://www.fws.gov/ivorybill/,  and http://www.birds.cornell.edu/ivory/.  If you spot one, be sure to let me know as well.